A young Black boy’s imagination and spunk lead him on diverting adventures in Ty’s Travels, a My First I Can Read series that HarperCollins will debut in September with All Aboard! and Zip, Zoom! Due out in simultaneous hardcover and paperback editions, the books are written by Kelly Starling Lyons, a founding member of The Brown Bookshelf, and author of the Jada Jones chapter book series and numerous picture books, including Ellen’s Broom, Going Down Home with Daddy and Sing a Song: How “Lift Every Voice & Sing” Inspired Generations. Nina Mata illustrates Ty’s Travels, which is the first My First I Can Read series centering on a Black family.
A propitious encounter between Lyons and Tamar Mays, editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books, planted the seeds for Ty’s Travels. The two met in 2018 at the Kweli Color of Children’s Literature Conference, where, the editor recalled, “We began chatting, and when I told her I was really interested in starting a series featuring a Black child as the protagonist, Kelly lit up. She was already an accomplished author, but she had never written an early reader. We had conversations about what makes a great early reader, with simple language, rhythm, and some repetition to set beginning readers up for success, and she came back with a proposal for a series with a joyful narrative about a boy who has a loving family and a great imagination that takes him to different places. She really got it!”
Delving into a new genre and shaping Ty’s personality and world was a challenge that Lyons tackled eagerly. “Tamar gave me such freedom to create the characters and stories—and I didn’t have to reach very far,” she said. “I have a 12-year-old son, who is sweet, innocent, and spunky, and I also facilitate a Black boys’ book club, so I am surrounded by their pure joy and big imaginations. They inspired me to focus on Ty’s ability to take an everyday experience and turn it into a flight of fancy. It was important for me to show the beauty of our Black boys, and I loved having the chance to mirror the beautiful family I grew up in and those I see every day.”
Lyons has signed on to write six more Ty’s Travels tales illustrated by Mata, and looks forward to their ongoing collaboration. “I can’t say enough positive things about Nina’s art,” the author said. “She entirely gets the vision I have and brings Ty and the other characters to life on the page so perfectly. Working in this new genre and having Tamar and her team guide me has been a wonderful experience—I am definitely hooked!”
Sharing Ty’s adventures with beginning readers has been “very rewarding,” Lyons said, and she is gratified to extend her creative reach and ethos to this audience. “As an author, I have always wanted to make sure that all kids know that they matter and that their history and dreams are valued,” she explained. “When you look at the range of easy readers you see that there aren’t many celebrating kids of color. It is so important, especially at this time, to underscore that not only do Black lives matter, but that Black joy matters. I feel very fortunate to have the chance to celebrate that joy in this series for the youngest readers.”
Yet the author emphasizes the critical need today to provide other writers of color with that opportunity, noting, “It’s important to center Black creators. Each year, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s statistics show that more children’s books are about us than by us. That has to change. As one of the founding members of The Brown Bookshelf, I know the wealth of Black authors and illustrators that exists. The publishing industry needs to do more to celebrate Black creators telling our own stories.”
Ty’s Travels: All Aboard! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illus. by Nina Mata. HarperCollins/My First I Can Read, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-06-295112-0; paper $4.99 ISBN 978-0-06-295107-6.
Ty’s Travels: Zip, Zoom! by Kelly Starling Lyons, illus. by Nina Mata. HarperCollins/My First I Can Read, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-0-06-295110-6; paper $4.99 ISBN 978-0-06-295109-0.